Understanding the Problem of Squatting, Squatters Rights and Laws
Squatting, or the unauthorized occupation of a property, can be a major problem for property owners as it is considered a civil matter. Not only is it illegal, but an unlawful detainer can also pose a safety hazard, and cause damage to the property. In this article we will discuss the proper solution, some creative ways to get rid of squatters, and the prevention strategies landlords can use to protect their property.
Before we talk about how to deal with these illegal occupants, it is important to understand that squatters have rights, which vary depending on the laws of your jurisdiction. I am not an attorney but from what I understand these could include:
- Adverse Possession: In some jurisdictions, if a squatter has occupied a property for a certain period of time (often referred to as a “statutory period”), without the permission of the owner, and has done so openly and without concealment, the squatter can gain legal ownership of the property through the legal principle of adverse possession.
- Right to Due Process: Squatters have the right to due process and must be provided with notice and an opportunity to be heard before they are evicted. This means that the property owner must follow the correct legal procedures and go through the eviction process. This may include serving an eviction notice and going to court.
- Right to a Safe Living Environment: Squatters have the right to live in safe and habitable living conditions. Property owners are often required to make necessary repairs and ensure that the property is up to local building and safety codes, even if the squatter is not paying rent.
- Right to Privacy: Squatters have the right to privacy, and property owners are not allowed to enter the property without permission or to change the locks without a court order.
- Right to be free from Harassment: Squatters have the right to be free from harassment, and property owners are not allowed to threaten or intimidate the squatter or to physically remove them from the property without a court order.
Proper Solution: How to Evict a Squatter
The proper solution for dealing with squatters is to go through the legal eviction process. This process may be slightly different between jurisdictions, so consult with an eviction attorney to ensure that you are following the correct procedure. Below is an example of a process that you would use to evict squatters.
Typically, the first step in the eviction process is to file for an eviction notice, which will inform the squatter that they are required to vacate the property within a certain amount of time. This notice is usually called the “Notice to Quit” and a law enforcement officer or process server must serve the squatter.
If the squatter does not vacate the property within the time period specified in the notice, the next step is to seek legal assistance and go to court to obtain an eviction order. This is usually done by filing a complaint for eviction with the court, and then serving the complaint and summons on the squatter. The squatter will then have an opportunity to respond to the complaint and to contest the eviction.
The court will then schedule a hearing, during which the property owner will need to prove that the squatter is occupying the property without permission, refuses to leave, and that the property owner has a legal right to possession. If the court finds in favor of the property owner, an eviction order will be issued, which will authorize a law enforcement officer to remove the squatter from the property.
Evicting a squatter could take months, but it can be necessary to gain legal access to your property. In addition, it can be costly to hire a lawyer and go to court. Therefore, you need to act quickly, call the police, or consult with a lawyer as soon as you suspect that someone is squatting on your property. Now let’s take a look at some not so time consuming creative ways to get rid of squatters.
Creative Ways to Get Rid of Squatters Outside of the Eviction Process
While the proper solution is to go through the legal eviction process, there are also some creative ways to get rid of squatters that can save a lot of time, money, and headaches.
Offering the squatter money to leave your property:
- Property owners can offer the occupant a lump sum of money or a relocation package in exchange for leaving the property.
- This can be a cost-effective and efficient solution, especially if the property owner is able to come to an agreement with the squatter without the need for legal proceedings. You will be able to rent your property out sooner, save money on filing fees, and avoid expensive repairs.
- This can be a good option if the squatter is willing to vacate the property quickly and without a lot of hassle.
- Additionally, it’s important to make sure that any agreements made with squatters are legally binding, and to have them reviewed by a lawyer before proceeding.
Negotiating a lease agreement:
- This can be a good option if the squatter is willing to pay rent and is willing to vacate the property when the lease agreement ends.
- This can be a temporary solution that can provide the property owner with a steady stream of income. I would try to have them go through the normal application process with a background check, income verification etc.
- You may get lucky and end up with a great tenant.
Using a property management company:
- Property management companies can handle the eviction process on behalf of the property owner and may have experience in dealing with squatters.
- They can take care of the legal proceedings, serve eviction notices and represent the property owner in court if necessary.
- The downside is that this can be a costly solution.
Asking the police for assistance:
- In some jurisdictions, the local police may be authorized to remove a squatter from a property if they are determined to be a trespasser. At the very least you will have an official police report to aid you in the eviction process.
- If the squatter is causing a safety hazard or if there are concerns about criminal activity taking place on the property, the police may be able to intervene to protect the safety of the community.
These are the creative ways to get rid of squatters that I have used in the past. I’ll say that my favorite is giving them cash to vacate the property. It can be a great way to give them an incentive to leave, saving you a lot of time, headache, and money in the process.
Prevention Strategies: Keeping Your Property Well-Maintained and Securing Entry Points
Preventing squatting from happening in the first place is always the best solution. Here are the best ways to prevent squatters:
Keeping the property well-maintained:
- By regularly maintaining the property, the property owner can show that the property is being actively used and that the property is not abandoned, which can deter squatters from moving in.
- A well-maintained property can also make it more difficult for squatters to conceal their presence, making it more likely that they will be detected.
Securing entry points:
- Securing entry points, such as windows, doors, and gates, can make it more difficult for squatters to gain access to the property.
- This can include installing locks, cameras, fences, or even hiring security personnel to monitor or occupy your property.
Establishing clear no-trespassing policies:
- Property owners should establish clear no-trespassing policies and post signs to let potential squatters know that the property is not abandoned and that trespassing is not allowed.
- This can help to deter potential squatters from entering the property in the first place.
Regularly visiting the property:
- Regularly visiting the property can help the property owner to detect squatting as early as possible and to take action to remove the squatter before they have a chance to establish themselves.
- Screening new tenants can help rental property owners to avoid renting to someone who may be at risk of becoming a squatter also known as a holdover tenant.
- The main things I look at when renting mobile homes or vacant lots in my business include criminal background checks, income, rental history, and references. You can include credit reports, but in mobile home park investing that is something that is rarely make or break.
What Not to Do: Illegal and Dangerous Actions that Landlords Should Avoid
It is important to note that there are creative ways to get rid of squatters listed above and then there are certain things that should not be done as it can lead to legal repercussions. Things that should not be done illegally when dealing with squatters include:
Changing the locks:
- Changing the locks without proper legal action can be illegal.
- Squatters may be able to seek damages for being locked out of the property, and the property owner may be held legally responsible for any damages or losses that the squatter incurs as a result of being locked out of the property.
Turn off the utilities:
- Shutting off utilities such as electricity, water, or gas is not only illegal, but it can also be dangerous and can cause harm to the squatter.
- Property owners are legally required to maintain the property in a safe and habitable condition, and shutting off the utilities can violate this requirement.
Harassing or threatening the squatter:
- Harassing or threatening the squatter is illegal and can also lead to civil or criminal charges.
- It’s important to remain calm and professional when dealing with squatters and to avoid using violence or intimidation.
- Never physically try to remove the person. You would be seriously putting yourself at risk.
Ignoring the situation and hoping it will go away:
- Ignoring the situation and hoping it will go away is not a solution and can make the problem worse.
- Squatters may be able to establish themselves on the property and can be more difficult to remove once they have set up camp.
Taking the law into your own hands:
- Taking the law into your own hands can be dangerous and can also lead to legal repercussions.
- It’s important to follow the proper legal process and to consult with a lawyer to ensure that you are taking the appropriate steps to remove the squatter.
Protecting Your Property and Following the Law
Dealing with squatters can be a difficult and complex issue for property owners. It is important to understand the laws and squatters’ rights that vary depending on the jurisdiction. The proper solution for dealing with squatters is to go through the legal eviction process, which may involve serving an eviction notice and obtaining an eviction order. As always the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website is a good resource for information on eviction, fair housing laws, and tenant rights.
There are some creative ways to get rid of squatters listed in this article, but sometimes they just don’t always work. The best way to avoid squatting is to prevent it from happening in the first place by keeping the property well-maintained, securing all entry points, establishing clear no-trespassing policies, and screening your tenants properly. If you are current dealing with a squatting situation, I wish you good luck and I hope this article is was helpful!